Entering Competitions, Guest Writer, Helen Yendall's Blog About Writing, Kate Atkinson, The Guardian
With our second short story competition up and running, we thought we’d invite the winner of our first one to offer some encouraging words to those considering entering.
In a recent interview in The Guardian, bestselling author Kate Atkinson describes winning a writing competition as the moment that launched her as a published author. She doesn’t say, but I’d be willing to bet that wasn’t the first competition she ever entered.
Whether you win or not, writing for competitions is the best way to fast-track an improvement to your writing. I discovered this for myself several years ago when I stumbled across Helen Yendall’s Blog About Writing which happened to be running a 100-word story competition with a category for new writers. I’d never shown anything I’d written to anyone before and the idea of offering up my words to be judged made me feel ill. Cringing with embarrassment, I confronted my fear and entered, only to feel worse a week later when I was shortlisted. My story was on the blog for ANYONE to read. The horror! I couldn’t help noticing, though, that the sky didn’t fall in. Nobody pointed and laughed at me in the street; in fact everything was just the same, except that next time it was much easier.
Even though that early shortlisting turned out to be beginner’s luck, I’d gained something valuable. If you are shy about sharing your work, you should definitely enter competitions. A story that disappears without trace, no one needs to know about, but a shortlisting – that’s a tremendous confidence boost. Writing to a set word-count helps you focus. You have to reread your work and, by cutting out anything unnecessary, hone it to a new level of precision. I once misread the rules to a competition and wrote a 500-word story, which I was quite pleased with, only to find when I entered that it should have been 250. I cut out half the words and the resulting story has been shortlisted twice. One more edit and who knows? That’s the great thing about competitions. It can feel like rejection when you don’t get anywhere, but you can learn from the experience. Always read the winners and figure out why the judges chose them. Then go back to your own work with fresh ideas and try again.
Thank you, Sara. Your story, Laptops and Coffin Lids, was a worthy winner against strong competition. That intriguing title didn’t do it any harm, either.
It’s comforting to discover that so many writers seem to suffer from shrinking-violet syndrome, and important to remember that a professional writer is a writer who refuses to give up…
Maggie Davies said:
The talented Sara was also the runner-up in Writers-online Bronte Celebration Short Story Competition.
Tanya van Hasselt said:
Laptops and Coffin Lids was one of those fabulous stories that you never forget – and want to read again for the sheer pleasure of it. ‘Always read the winners and figure out why the judges chose them’ – excellent advice and following it is rewarding as well as highly enjoyable. But very occasionally I find I actually dislike a winning story or can’t understand why it won. Sour grapes? Probably! On these occasions I guess one has to just remember that tastes are different and it’s a subjective business – and perhaps this is a good thing.